Do you know someone who has made a difference in the lives of children laboring in exploitative work? Have you worked with an organization or government which has gone above and beyond to assist child laborers? If so, I encourage you to consider submitting a nomination for the U.S. Department of Labor’s 2011 Iqbal Masih Award.
This annual award honors the heroic legacy of Iqbal Masih whose life was an example of courage, leadership and integrity. Iqbal Masih was just four years old when he was sold into slavery as a carpet weaver in Pakistan’s rug industry. He was chained to a carpet loom where he worked 14 hours a day and was barely given enough food to survive.
Iqbal escaped eight years later at the age of 12 and began speaking to children about their rights, helping to free many from slavery. In 1994, Iqbal received the Reebok Human Rights Award for his courageous efforts. But tragically at the age of 13, he was killed by an unknown gunman while riding his bike home in his native Pakistan.
For the past two years, the Department of Labor has honored extraordinary work that embodies the spirit and values of Iqbal Masih.
In 2010, Maria Flores-Oebanda of the Philippines became the first recipient of the Iqbal Masih Award. Ms. Flores-Oebanda has dedicated her life to combating the use of child domestic workers and the trafficking of women and children. In 1991, she founded the Visayan Forum Foundation which has since rescued and provided assistance to more than 32,000 victims and potential victims of trafficking. Ms. Flores-Oebanda also played a lead role in ensuring the passage of national legislation that protects domestic workers.
In February 2011, the Iqbal Masih Award was given to the Firestone Agricultural Workers Union of Liberia (FAWUL). FAWUL persevered in the face of adversity, organized workers on the Firestone Rubber Plantation, and gained international support for their mission to protect workers and their children on the rubber plantation. FAWUL succeeded in negotiating two collective bargaining agreements that banned child labor and improved conditions for adult workers on the plantation.
These Iqbal Masih Award recipients have made a real difference for some of the world’s most vulnerable children. If you know an individual, company, organization, or national government that has taken extraordinary steps to rescue, protect or offer new hope and opportunity to exploited children, I encourage you to submit a nomination. Your submission can help raise awareness and give recognition to these courageous and vital efforts.
If you would like to learn more about what we here at the Department of Labor are doing to combat child labor, visit our Office of Child Labor, Forced Labor and Human Trafficking online.
For more information about child labor and the efforts of some organizations addressing child labor, visit:
Sandra Polaski is the Deputy Undersecretary for the Bureau of International Labor Affairs.